Some of them have been stinkers. Real, out and out stinkers. As a child, most of my days were stinkers. As an adolescent I had a little more control of them and some were good sprinkled among the crap. In my twenties, it was two fingers up to the world and ‘doing my own thing, going my own way!’ as defiant and giddy as a kid on a roller coaster. My thirties turned out to be about motherhood and wifery and getting-by and some were good and some were hard but on the whole… OKish.
And then came a belief, a firm conviction about Jesus Christ.
Quickly followed by a certain amount of writing success and low level kinda fame, and a few plaudits and awards and stuff, and money and a few cars. But alongside all of them was bereavement (husband) illness (dad) mental instability (stepmother) and depression (me). And I slipped away from following Christ.
So, all the days of my life… a mixed bag. Like most people. Oh, alright then, like all people.
Psalm23 says ‘Surely your goodness and mercy will follow me, all the days of my life.’ Some translations have it ‘mercy and love’.
I want to question that, explore it. I don’t want to be a mealy mouthed say-the-right-thing Christian. Do I really believe what the Bible tells me about the nature of God and of His love? See this child here?
That’s me in Londonderry or Kilroot or somewhere in Ulster and the ‘face’ is because I believed that as my brother stepped back to take the photo he was abandoning me. Most of my early photos have that face. The face of abandonment. Nothing to cry about but hell’s teeth, I was going to cry anyway. An early indication of a drama queen? Maybe. Or did I somehow sense what was coming to meet me just 5 years later? A bloody big express train of loss and pain bearing down on me with no brakes to lessen the impact. The thing is, my little froodlepips, if God is omniscient, then He knew about that express train, how it would smash me, break me, pulp me, and if He is all caring and love itself, then why did He let me go through it? Why did He allow a situation where a teenage lad, Martin, had to nurse his blind and dying Mother and look after his two siblings? Why did He allow Peter to be beaten and neglected? Why did He allow me to have the childhood and adolescence that scarred me for quite a chunk of years and still creeps up on me now?
Was His mercy and goodness following me all the days of my life? Really? Can I say those words and mean them?
I’ve been reading the 23rd Psalm to a friend who is seriously ill, exhausted, in pain, wretched. It gives us both peace. I was going to say ‘it gives us both comfort’ but that’s too easily misunderstood. The words don’t make everything cosy and comfortable, my friend is in a bad place right now, and I would love to rescue her from it, so there is little ‘comfort’ in this moment. But there is peace. There is a difference.
As I hold her hand, as we listen to music played on the mobile phone on her pillow, as we try to shut out the clamour of a busy ward, do we know God’s mercy and goodness, His love? Oh, yes. Yes, we know it.
Where was He back when I was 6, 7, 8? Where was He when He allowed Mum to die in confusion and fear? Where was He when my dad married a neurotic and unhappy woman who loathed both Peter and me, unable to even look at us? Where was He when we were both kicked out of home? Where was God then?
He was bringing me through. Oh, what a pious little sentence that is! Is it true, though? You bet your life it is, although I don’t claim to understand it. The harder truth is that Peter died, an alcoholic, in a house fire, and Martin never found a stable relationship. I can’t, hand on heart, say that God brought them through to a place of peace. So, is He a fickle God, choosing who He will love, discarding some and choosing others?
No, He is pure love. Unending love. I know this. I don’t understand why I have been led to this place of peace, but I know who brought me here. I don’t understand why Peter and Martin never found God. I know there is nothing in me that deserves God, nothing in me that is in any way better than them, so there’s the mystery.
Some of you know that I am addicted, BIG TIME, to the book of Isaiah. It’s taught me so much about the nature of God and the nature of man. I am an impatient creature – I love doing stuff now-now, answering messages as soon as they ping in, working to deadlines, being given tasks, driving fast, being impulsive, charging ahead, adrenaline fuelled, running from danger and fear and rejection, move! Move! Move! A moving target is hard to hit. But Isaiah has taught me something akin to patience, akin to peace, akin even to humility (note, it’s ‘akin’ to. I ain’t humble yet!) .
Isaiah 45:9. What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker?
Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’
Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’
Martin and Peter both argued with God. They were unhappy, so empty and unhappy. I do mourn for them still, all this long time later. They were all the family I had for a few brief years and they died not knowing why they had been born. What a heart-breaking waste.
In a group discussion last night, we were looking at some of the reasons posited for disbelief in Christ, and I was overwhelmed with a feeling of real sadness and perplexity about those who spend their lives trying to disprove that Jesus was God, or that He even existed. It reminded me afresh of that Isaiah verse, ‘what sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator.’
Is there any story as sad as the life story, any life story, that ends without knowing and accepting, and feasting on, the love of Christ? I look at that chubby little girl in that old black and white photo, and I want to reach out to her and say ‘Courage, little fat dumpling. Someone loves you, and He will bring you through. ALL THE DAYS OF YOUR LIFE.’
God is the potter and I am the clay. I am not going to argue with Him about my life, about what He has brought into my life, or allowed into it. It’s made me who I am, and He’s working with that clay right now, turning me into what He wants me to be.
I’m going to stop now because I could go on and on and on today. Lost in wonder… what’s the phrase? ‘Lost in wonder, love and praise.’
Not a bad place to be.